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News Posted on March 17, 2017

Professor Jack Balkin Visits King Hall as MLK Distinguished Scholar in Residence, Lectures on 'Free Speech in the 21st Century'

Jack BalkinJack M. Balkin, Knight Professor of Constitutional Law & the First Amendment at Yale Law School delivered a lecture titled "Soylent Green Is the Right to Forget Your Robot Is Spouting Fake News: Free Speech Theory in the 21st Century" as part of a week-long visit to King Hall as the UC Davis School of Law Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Scholar in Residence.

Balkin is the founder and director of Yale’s Information Society Project, an interdisciplinary center that studies law and new information technologies. He also directs the Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression, and the Knight Law and Media Program at Yale. His March 15 “Law in the Information Age” lecture was jointly sponsored by the School of Law, the California International Law Center, and the UC Davis Center for Science and Innovation Studies.

As part of his residency at King Hall, Balkin visited Professor Brian Soucek’s Constitutional Law class, presented a paper to the King Hall faculty on dysfunction in American democracy and the need for constitutional reform, and had numerous informal meetings with faculty. In his lecture, Balkin gave a dynamic presentation of ideas concerning the ways in which theories of free speech may be applied to privacy concerns, “fake news,” and other contemporary problems of the digital age. 

Balkin talked about “information fiduciaries,” a concept he introduced two years ago during a previous visit to King Hall to deliver the Central Valley Foundation/James B. McClatchy Lecture on the First Amendment. Balkin said that the law has long held that doctors, lawyers, and other professionals who enter into close relationships with clients in order to provide services may be subject to legal restrictions regarding their ability to use or disclose information they learn as a result of those relationships. Companies such as Facebook and Google are similarly entrusted with confidential information and could be also be subject to regulation without conflicting with the First Amendment, Balkin said.  He also talked about the possibility that public nuisance laws could be applied to rein in digital companies whose use of algorithms perpetuates racism and other social problems.

In the second half of his lecture, Balkin talked about problems associated with the “collateral censorship” that occurs when governments pressure digital companies and infrastructure providers to suppress speech or information, and the “systems of private governance” that are evolving among digital services providers to address issues of user privacy and problems such as the proliferation of “fake news.”

“There will be an attempt to try to encourage more private governance by Facebook and other social media sites to assist their end users,” said Balkin. “The First Amendment friendly answer to fake news is not going to be collateral censorship, but rather in relying ever more heavily on private governance as a solution, and this is going to evermore make these platform owners media companies.  That is to say, they will have to come to understand themselves as a new kind of media with new of obligations.”